Why Was One Comic Book Company Allowed to Keep Doing Horror Comics?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to they're e-mail questions to me at brianc@cbr.com).

Reader Doug H. wrote in to ask:

"I have read several comic book histories describing how the comics code was revised after Stan Lee’s famous anti-drug story in Spider-Man, which led to the monster wave at Marvel comics. Before that, the code forbid use of the words vampire, werewolf, and zombie. Then, they could do stories along the lines of Dracula and Frankenstein, which led Marvel to do stories immediately about Dracula, Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night, and several others.


However, before all of that, Gold Key featured werewolves and vampires in their Dark Shadows comic books. I looked them up on comics.org and noticed none of the covers have the comics code stamp. This was also true of Gold Key’s Boris Karloff, Twilight Zone, and even Tarzan comics. As a company, did they just ignore the comics code? How did they get away with that?"

First off, Doug is, in part, mistaking Gold Key for Dell Comics. You see, Dell Comics was a rare comic book company in that they did not actually produce their own comic books. They cut a deal with Western Publishing, who would do the actual production of the comics while Dell would finance the books and distribute them. This was the case from 1938-1962, a huge boom period for the two companies, as their Walt Disney Comics sold like gangbusters. In any event, Western eventually decided that they would just try to do the books on their own, so they went on their own in 1962, creating Gold Key as the new name for their comics. Since it was the same comic book company making the comics as before, it was difficult for fans to tell that anything had changed (until Gold Key started experimenting with making their comics look like picture books). But whatever, the main topic here applies to both companies, so it really doesn't matter.


Anyhow, on their own, Dell tried a whole bunch of ideas to try to remain in the comic book business.

Two of their ideas were to make horror comics, including Dracula...

and Frankenstein...

They then hilariously tried SUPERHERO versions of both characters. They were so, so bad.

So why was Dell able to do horror comics during the early 1960s, when the Comics Code still said, “Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited"?

As I noted in a Comic Book Legends Revealed earlier this year (when someone asked a similar question about the Dracula superhero book), the answer is that Dell never actually signed up for the Comics Code. They, instead, did a Dell pledge that they vowed was STRICTER than the Comics Code. So they got away with not belonging to the Comics Code. So almost a decade in, with the public fears mostly allayed, Dell just went ahead and did whatever they felt like.


So that's why there were no Comics Code marks on those books, Doug, since Dell NEVER was part of the Comics Code! Since Gold Key was basically the same as Dell, the same thing applied to Gold Key. They avoided ever having to use the Comics Code. It just shows how silly the Code, was, as people stopped caring by the 1960s that Gold Key was able to launch without even thinking about using the Code on their books.

Thanks for the question, Doug!

If anyone else has a comic book related question that they'd like to see answered, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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